This morning as I prepared to go to work – work that I find exciting yet demanding – it was difficult to be enthusiastic or appreciative. I wanted to express more gratitude, but worry-laden thoughts would not leave me alone. When I arrived at work, an article by Sara Novak called “Living without Regret: The Key to Happiness Later in Life” caught my attention. Actually it was the second sentence: “Worrying is like a rocking chair, it takes energy, but doesn’t get you anywhere.” This piqued my interest. How much time do we spend in this mental rocking chair with worry, what-ifs, regrets, daydreaming, or just spacing out?
Charles Choi, LiveScience contributer, also backs up the idea that letting go of regrets may be the key to aging well. Choi presented a couple of studies that highlighted the effects of regret in “No Regrets: Why ‘Letting Go’ May Be Key To Happy Aging." In one study, the participants were organized into three groups: 25-year-olds, depressed older adults, and healthy older adults. The younger group and the older depressed group made riskier decisions during the study, while the older healthy group really did not change their behavior or strategy. Researcher Stefanie Brassen, a neuroscientist at University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany, explained, "Given that unsuccessfully aged people demonstrated a more 'youthlike' behavior, it seems to be essential for our emotional well-being to adapt to changing life-demands when we are older – that is, to not look back in anger and to focus on the positive."
Simply put, regret leads to poor emotional health.
In her article, Novak provides a list of tips for living without regret. One I found very meaningful was to “set your own path; don’t live the path of others.” This speaks to individual accountability, thoughtfulness, responsibility, and trust. I have found that when I focus on expressing these qualities, it helps me avoid second-guessing and regrets. And when I acknowledge that my ability to do this comes from my relationship to a higher power, rather than from will power, it’s a kind of prayer.